Saturday, October 21, 2006

John Roberts in Charleston

I wrote a piece for the GSO that will be out this week on the Chief Justice's visit to Charleston. I realized while writing this that I really don't like purely news reporting. You have to sift out opinion and anything about what the event meant, its significance or interpretation of Roberts' remarks. What's left is just a recording of the event, statement of fact. I'm not saying it's easy to do news writing; it's actually quite difficult (if not impossible) to completely remove opinion when you're writing. However, I do think that analysis is more important.

Usually I write for the op-ed section of the GSO, but I volunteer to do news pieces every once in a while. From now on I'll try to stick to op-ed.

Here's the full text:

Chief Justice John Roberts in Charleston

The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts Jr., paid a visit to Charleston’s Gailliard Auditorium on Friday. Senator Lindsey Graham introduced the Chief Justice, who then answered questions from a panel of several area residents associated with the Charleston School of Law.

Included on the panel were US Court of Appeals Judge for the Fourth Circuit William Wilkins, US District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, Charleston School of Law Professor John L.S. Simpkins and third-year Charleston School of Law student Ashley Rockwell. The auditorium was almost full to capacity with Charleston area lawyers, law students and a few lucky College of Charleston students whose professors made it possible for them to attend the event, which was not open to the public.

Chief Justice Roberts gave brief opening remarks, then the panel began asking questions. In the first question, Chief Judge Wilkins asked Chief Justice Roberts if he thought the confirmation process for US Supreme Court justices should be reformed. The process, which involves marathon questioning sessions of the nominee by the Senate, had been notoriously harsh in Chief Justice Roberts’ case. Roberts good-naturedly replied “Well, it’s worked pretty well recently.” before acknowledging that much of the questioning process had been unnecessary. Since the nominee is usually a judge in a lower court and judges are barred from commenting on cases that are currently being considered, the nominee is put in the awkward position of refusing to answer questions posed by the congressmen about those cases.

Since assuming his position in September of 2005, Chief Justice Roberts has tried to move the court away from split decisions and towards more unanimous rulings. In answering a question from Professor Simpkins, the Chief Justice emphasized his view that unanimity is desirable in every decision, not just in constitutional law cases.

Professor Simpkins also asked the Chief Justice what distinguishes the US judicial branch from other countries’ court systems. Roberts answered that the legal -- as opposed to political -- nature of the US Constitution goes great lengths to protect the US system from partiality. Every case is decided using the same reasoned steps, no matter what the issue is. He also spoke about the importance of having a single Supreme Court that decides all kinds of cases using the same basis for reasoning.

The event closed with the unveiling of a portrait of Senior US District Judge Sol Blatt, Jr. The portrait was painted by Michael Del Priore and will hang in the Charleston School of Law.

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